Posted by: metinahurricane | April 21, 2011

Meditations on Innovation and Creativity

So, to continue on from my statement of intent Meditations on First Principles, what I’m trying to do is draw out from the murky soup of MYM commenting is what exactly it is that makes a moveset good – for surely we have some sort of standard beyond simply what appeals to us at the moment of reading. Of course, there are different aspects of movesetting that will appeal to different people – we do all have our own values and convictions, after all – but perhaps we can establish which aspects are not relevant basis for a negative value judgment, or, for that matter, a positive one. It’s a start, and hopefully a base from which we can start to draw conclusions about how to read and critique sets properly.

So let’s begin.

DIALOGUE I – BALOO

Rool: You’ll agree, Baloo, that originality is generally held to be one of the most important aspects of a moveset?

Baloo: Yeah, sure. But it seems somewhat vague…

Rool: Too true. What we call original now is not the same as what we defined as original in the old days. When we hear the term creativity, we still think of individual moves – but obviously, we don’t praise creativity in individual moves anymore, unless those individual moves do a really spectacular job of single-handedly tying a bunch of other moves together in a surprising way. No, when we refer to originality, it’s the playstyle we refer to.

Baloo: What is an original playstyle, though, Rool? What hasn’t been done?

Rool: Exactly! We need to reevaluate what we are looking for when we seek innovation. I’ll try to explain. Let’s take two recent, popular sets – Diglett and Bizarro. Which one is more original, Baloo?

Baloo: Well, Bizarro seems to be kind of heavy on the generic attacks… so unless that was a rhetorical question…

Rool: It was indeed. You know, we’re entering difficult territory here. Diglett’s character is one that is very tricky to implement into our fighting game engine – but that’s a different sort of praise, one that I’ll get to shortly. It lends itself, in any case, to something that bends the rules. Diglett is original because no other character has – or, indeed, could – be so inextricably rooted to the stage. By virtue of his mechanic alone, his playstyle becomes alien, quite removed from our concepts of spacer, gimper, combo character, trap character, summons character, or what-have-you. Do you agree?

Baloo: He’s kind of a trap character if you squint.

Rool: If you squint, Spy is kind of a spacing character. There’s a certain point at which resemblances become too tenuous to support.

Baloo: Hmm…

Rool: In some ways, he is almost a liquid-control character, like Bowser Jr or N. Brio – he turns the stage into an extension of himself, and uses it as a weapon, and KO’s, some of the time at least, in a way that bears no relation to how our familiar character archetypes KO. This is the root of his creativity; Junahu twists the game engine just so and creates something that almost feels like it doesn’t belong in the game. Let’s face it, we have explored much of the design space available in the mechanics of Brawl, and much of what we refer to as original is interesting and engaging because it creates its own mechanic, its own design space. Some of the most highly regarded sets create enough design space for other MYMers to explore without entirely retreading the same ground – an exaggerated example of this is the Spy, who literally creates a set of mechanics for entirely new sets to exist in, but I would also here classify sets like Bowser Jr, which introduced tropes that have very quickly become cliché as MYMers have, with mixed success, tried to develop on its central mechanic.introduced tropes that have very quickly become cliché as MYMers have, with mixed success, tried to develop on its central mechanic.

Baloo: But there aren’t many sets like that, are there?

Rool: Certainly not. Nor do they age very well. We can, should and do praise these sets, because their innovation allows us to do all kinds of neat things that we didn’t believe could be done before. And why should we want more design tools?

Baloo: There are characters that can’t really function with just what’s in Brawl, I’d say. I have real trouble thinking of how, I don’t know, Castform could be put into Brawl if we didn’t have all the tools we’ve invented for ourselves. I mean, I tried to make Castform contests ago, and it didn’t work out.

Rool: That’s not really your fault – you didn’t have the tools necessary to properly express Castform. You turned him into a kind of chance character who had a bunch of attacks that would possibly switch him between forms. But he’s not an uncontrolled elemental force – he’s a lab experiment, designed and harnessed by mad scientists to be able to regulate and take advantage of different weather zones. In MYM 4, you didn’t have the advanced ideas of traps that we have now, and so there was no way for you to make a decent Castform set. Nobody could have done any better, either. But now LegendofLink stepped up and did exactly what needed to be done. That would be impossible if not for the innovative sets of the past, from Black Doom to Jafar to The Kid, some of whom have aged well and some of whom have been entirely obsoleted as muddled and unfocused. There’s a reason MYMers always feel they could remake their own sets and do them better – we’re constantly getting new tools to play with, strictly from reading one another’s sets. But do you see the problem?

Baloo: We’re bound to run out of innovation, aren’t we?

Rool: Precisely. Thank you for being so helpful, Baloo. Just because a set is creative doesn’t mean it will open up new avenues for future projects – take Diglett, which is so deeply tied to its character’s unique body type. We can have a Dugtrio set, a Monty Mole set (intriguing…), and not much else that can profit from the creative space Junahu invented. This isn’t a bad thing; it just means that Diglett’s set is inextricably linked to the character it’s serving. And so we applaud Junahu.

Baloo: But what about sets that combine old ideas?

Rool: Every set combines old ideas to an extent. You mean sets that do not innovate?

Baloo: Sets that don’t create new design space, I guess.

Rool: There are plenty of those. We don’t tend to condemn them. I mean, just take your Aiantos and your Jeices – those sets do have mechanics, central conceits, but they’re not the sort of thing that is going to launch a movement, simply because a lot of what they do is either particular to the character or a bit of a dead end, design-wise.

Baloo: It seems to me that we still like those sets.

Rool: We like them very much.

Baloo: So innovation is not what we’re looking for.

Rool: I don’t believe so, no. Which brings me to Bizarro. As you’ve astutely observed, it’s a set full of generic attacks.

Baloo: Yeah, I mean, my average Dtilt is more interesting than his specials.

Rool: This is quite possibly true. But wouldn’t you say that that Dtilt of yours that plants a trap or launches a projectile or what-have-you has no relevance to anything?

Baloo: Okay, I’m a bad example. This isn’t MYM 4 anymore. What about Diglett’s attacks? Some of them are still kind of generic, but they all combine to do some really neat stuff. Bizarro’s attacks just kind of flow into a Sakurai character.

Rool: But we praise Bizarro, remember? We call him creative. Why do you suppose that is?

Baloo: I guess that’s because he has an interesting playstyle. We don’t have many shield-breakers. It’s pretty creative of meanie to attack it from this perspective.

Rool: Diglett is a pretty set, don’t you think? Junahu does such a nice job of telling a story through his attacks and of painting an interesting picture around him. meanie doesn’t care as much about that, though. What he’s about is generic attacks that even Sakurai could create; instead of the moveset giving the reader some superficial pleasure while reading it, he leaves them with a playstyle that’s multi-pronged, diverse, and allows him to play in a whole bunch of neat ways.

Baloo: Junahu does that too! I have proof!

Rool: Oh?

Baloo: He had that argument with Warlord in which he said that we should obsuffocate the moveset’s real playstyle via writing style to let the reader draw his own conclusions!

Rool: A somewhat jejune reading of Junahu’s argument. What he was getting at is that we’re all building playstyle into our movesets, and how well they’re received is dangerously linked to how we present them. But you’re getting me off the point – yes, I agree that Junahu does the same thing. He will not force the reader to play the moveset in a certain way, although there likely is an optimal playstyle. Wouldn’t you say that we generally judge movesets based on how interesting that “optimal” playstyle is?

Baloo: Well, we can’t all spend hours poring over a moveset’s details to pick up on all the little subtleties. Maybe it’s possible with an Emolga or an Airman – those sets are really short and Junahu is actively trying to get the reader to think for himself by hiding something important until later – but how am I supposed to give Recoome a careful reading to pick up on all the stuff he can do?

Rool: So you admit that in a perfect world, we’d be judging movesets based on not only how interesting the playstyle section is but on how creative the moveset itself is.

Baloo: Well, maybe… but what if playstyle is accidental?

Rool: If that playstyle is interesting, suited to the character, and demonstrably there, who cares? Newton discovered gravity by accident, but it doesn’t make him any less of a genius.

Baloo: But then how creative a set is can depend heavily on the reader’s imagination and mood and stuff. And that varies from person to person.

Rool: And here is the point at which subjectivity becomes quantifiable. We find some sets more creative than others because of what we read into them. This explains why it’s so difficult to put forward arguments about why one idea is more creative than another. When you choose between two similar sets, you’re choosing between different playing styles (we all have history with this and other fighting games and we’re bound to bring certain prejudices along with us), and you’re also drawing out more ideas from one than from the other. When we reread old favourites, we sometimes feel the magic has been lost – those were the sets that charmed us with their writing style, their presentations. If we find more there than we thought at first, we’re exercising our imagination. We’re reading between the lines. Now that we’ve had the writer’s interpretation, we can feel free to expand on it with what we see before us.

Baloo: What if the writer contradicts what we see? Or just doesn’t notice it?

Rool: When we compliment a moveset, are we complimenting the moveset or the writer? A lot of comments are addressed to the writer. That doesn’t seem right, does it? We want the best sets to succeed, regardless of the writer’s perception of them.

Baloo: And this is why Warlord sometimes calls Sukapon a Rool set?

Rool: That is precisely why. I read more into Sukapon than Wiz meant to put in; it’s the same thing with Saber, and Blooper, and any number of controversial sets I’ve liked. That the writer did things accidentally should not discount their worth, right?

Baloo: Warlord disagrees.

Rool: I’ll have to have another chat with him on the subject soon, I think. More relevantly, have I convinced you?

Baloo: Yeah!

Rool: Groovy.

CONCLUSIONS (on creativity): 

  • creative sets either create new design space, explore old design space in new ways, or give a reader a lot of material to combine and consider as they will
  •  sets that create new design space might give other sets a new tool, like Bowser Jr, or might preclude such following because of the peculiarities of their mechanic, like Diglett
  • sets that retread old design space are praised when they employ it in service of their characters
  • sets that use generic attacks are still considered creative if they engage with the reader’s imagination
Agreed? Disagreed? I want to hear what you all think. Bear in mind that this is only the first of several points and that the fact that I don’t talk much about being in-character or about presentation or about flow should be taken for granted.
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Responses

  1. 1: Where in the blazes did you find Baloo? 2: Sure, I suppose I somewhat agree with you on most parts. However, I don’t think movesets that rely entirely on generic attacks just because they can are creative. There’s a certain line between moves that are generic because that HELPS them to work in the set and moves that are generic simply because the writer can get away with it.

    As a sidenote, I’d say people should comment to the writer rather than the set; a set cannot talk back to you, accept your praise, or defend itself. If a writer did accidentally put something in, sure, that’s an exception, but I doubt that happens all too commonly, and treating every set as an accident isn’t going to help MYM any. I’d think this was rather obvious.

  2. Interesting article, though one has to ask, where did you find Baloo? I’m also wondering how he knows about all of the recent movesets. Nonetheless, an intriguing dialogue, though questionable given one of you is AWOL.

    Personally, I don’t feel there’s any right or wrong answer, and this can come squarely down to an individual basis on each moveset.

  3. There’s no Baloo! He’s just an anonymous stand-in for somebody I’m theoretically conversing with. He’s a device, see? XD

  4. I figured as much… odd.

  5. You are a lonely, lonely man.

  6. As a sidenote you can come into the chat; I’m there, as are MT and Smady

  7. If there’s anything I’ve taken in with this it’s that character starts everything, and that one person will either do something others can’t or will do something everyone else has done. It kinda makes sense overall.

    The reason I can’t and probably won’t finish one of my sets is because it’s already been done before by somebody else. AAND ALSO because it’s me. I’d prefer to tread on untouched space and leave the fighting to the rest of you. I’m here for different reasons.. ◕ ‿‿ ◕

  8. No, no, Kat, I WISH we were fighting. I’d kick Rool and Warlord’s asses any day of the week.

  9. Interesting to see that you’re putting this much thought and effort into exploring different aspects of movesets. You’ve done a pretty good job of describing how sets are creative and what impact they have on other sets, and you’ve impersonated a dead MYMer to boot. Essentially, you’re establishing a more advanced and modern series of tutorials, which I’m sure will prove more helpful to some than many of those those dinosaurs lurking around the Hints and Tips section of the Stadium..

    But I’d still rather be reading a MYMer Review right now. (WARY)

  10. “Sure, I suppose I somewhat agree with you on most parts. However, I don’t think movesets that rely entirely on generic attacks just because they can are creative. There’s a certain line between moves that are generic because that HELPS them to work in the set and moves that are generic simply because the writer can get away with it.”

    Ah, but how can we distinguish that line? How can we presume to guess why the writer made a certain generic move? If they make it sound suitable, then to all intents and purposes it IS suitable.

    “As a sidenote, I’d say people should comment to the writer rather than the set; a set cannot talk back to you, accept your praise, or defend itself. If a writer did accidentally put something in, sure, that’s an exception, but I doubt that happens all too commonly, and treating every set as an accident isn’t going to help MYM any. I’d think this was rather obvious.”

    Why should the writer defend his set? Preferably it should speak for itself and everything it’s about is contained right there; I don’t think we should reevaluate sets based on what was MEANT to be there, but on what IS there. And the whole point is that writers are constantly putting things in accidentally. Every decent moveset is full of “accidental” playstyle, synergy and mindgames that the writer wasn’t aware of when he wrote it. The question is how much of it is accessible to the reader.

    “Personally, I don’t feel there’s any right or wrong answer, and this can come squarely down to an individual basis on each moveset.”

    Well, that’s basically saying that we should keep on the way we’ve been going and leave everything up to subjectivity. Which may be right, but is kind of a redundant thing to say here.

    “If there’s anything I’ve taken in with this it’s that character starts everything, and that one person will either do something others can’t or will do something everyone else has done. It kinda makes sense overall.”

    Character IS often at the root of innovation. Either character or design space, I’d say. And the best sets combine both, like n88’s Haunter, which explores the background of the stage – new and interesting design space – in a way that is uniquely suited to his character.

    “No, no, Kat, I WISH we were fighting. I’d kick Rool and Warlord’s asses any day of the week.”

    I challenge you to a fistfight.

    “Interesting to see that you’re putting this much thought and effort into exploring different aspects of movesets. You’ve done a pretty good job of describing how sets are creative and what impact they have on other sets, and you’ve impersonated a dead MYMer to boot. Essentially, you’re establishing a more advanced and modern series of tutorials, which I’m sure will prove more helpful to some than many of those those dinosaurs lurking around the Hints and Tips section of the Stadium..”

    Well, exactly! I’m trying to make some sort of guidelines that people who are frustrated with MYM’s apparently subjective whims can follow. It’s not easy, though… in my next one, I’ll take a step back and talk about the whole point of a moveset, its goal, what it’s made for.

    “But I’d still rather be reading a MYMer Review right now. (WARY)”

    I’m a bit fizzled out on commenting, but it’s not impossible, somewhere in the future…

  11. I’d say it was the article, and not the answer that is redundant. Enjoyable nonetheless, but it’s not much of a dialogue.

  12. Why should we leave things implicit? If we agree, it’s better to get our preconceptions of what movesets are out and in the open. If we disagree, then it’s not redundant, right?

  13. From the replies, it seems mostly everyone agrees on what you’re basically saying. You’r more-or-less stating facts, so there’s little room for disagreement.

  14. Well, Rool, I’d say it’s not that difficult to figure out if someone legitimately believes a move MUST be the way they made it or if they’re just bullshitting their way through. It might just be me; I’m rather good at seeing that kind of stuff since I do it quite often in real life.

    As for defending a set, well, there are things that the reader can miss as well. Why assume that the reader is perfect and the writer is a flawed piece of hobjockey? If a writer defends his/her set, it’s generally not because they think that their flaws don’t matter or simply don’t exist; rather it’s because they feel the reader didn’t quite understand something correctly or didn’t see a large part of the moveset.

    I’m not going to say “because they think the reader is wrong” because no reader is “wrong.” If someone fully understands a moveset, didn’t miss a thing, and is perfect, and still loathes the set with all the mighty passion of a thousand white-hot suns, so be it.

    But if they just skimmed the set, skipped some moves or even some important dialogue, then it’s their fault, and the writer has every right to defend himself. Rightly.

    Also I have no idea what hobjockey means but I assume it’s an insult since I heard some guy shout it at someone else.

  15. Crazy old uncle Rool, talking to himself.

    Gotta say I agree with much of this.

  16. “From the replies, it seems mostly everyone agrees on what you’re basically saying. You’r more-or-less stating facts, so there’s little room for disagreement.”

    I know that these are things that many MYMers take to be true automatically, but we’re unfortunately unable to read each other’s minds. If we’re all on the same page here, then we have to keep searching on other terms – other factors – other compliments – until we find what it is that makes one man praise Shuma-Gorath and the other dislike it. If we’re all applying the same standards I laid out here for creativity, that’s a good thing, not a bad one – but I’m not as sure as you are that that’s the case right now.

    “Well, Rool, I’d say it’s not that difficult to figure out if someone legitimately believes a move MUST be the way they made it or if they’re just bullshitting their way through. It might just be me; I’m rather good at seeing that kind of stuff since I do it quite often in real life.”

    I think this is why we like precision in detail – it allows us to more clearly tell how much the writer knows or doesn’t know.

    “As for defending a set, well, there are things that the reader can miss as well. Why assume that the reader is perfect and the writer is a flawed piece of hobjockey? If a writer defends his/her set, it’s generally not because they think that their flaws don’t matter or simply don’t exist; rather it’s because they feel the reader didn’t quite understand something correctly or didn’t see a large part of the moveset.”

    The actual reader isn’t perfect, of course. I’m assuming here that the ideal reader is attentive and objective. Also that the ideal writer has the agreeable trait of clarity. And large parts of the moveset shouldn’t be muddled or even conceivably hard to understand – if a mechanic is easily misinterpreted, the moveset has a serious problem that the writer needs to fix ASAP.

    We’re talking about how things SHOULD be, not how things actually are. We’re talking about how we SHOULD write and read sets.

    “I’m not going to say “because they think the reader is wrong” because no reader is “wrong.” If someone fully understands a moveset, didn’t miss a thing, and is perfect, and still loathes the set with all the mighty passion of a thousand white-hot suns, so be it.”

    I’m going out on a limb to say that the reader who doesn’t miss any facet of a moveset, including all the accidental ones, is not going to dislike it. And is also an unnatural being. The question that decides how much we like sets is precisely how much of it we can imagine, develop on in our own minds, and, yeah, understand.

    “But if they just skimmed the set, skipped some moves or even some important dialogue, then it’s their fault, and the writer has every right to defend himself. Rightly.”

    Well, that’s not a reader. That’s a skimmer. And he’s just as irrelevant to a serious discussion of whether a moveset is good or bad as somebody who votes based on an attack ad is of whether a politician is good or bad. 😉

  17. With this in mind, I do believe that the advent of Previewing a set is most important

  18. Not a lot here to disagree with. Some of the points seem cyclic, but that’s obviously the whole reason the article was neccessary.
    There’s little I can contribute to this particular arm of discussion, since I am not one to herald inception over process.

    What I think most of us do when we consider creativity is to think of it in terms of contribution. Not only what it adds to the experiences of the reader, but also what it adds to the spaghetti history of MYM.
    Something I do when I deign to look at a set is to consider also whether it enriches the writer themselves. Whether the MYMer has taken a step along whatever path it is they’re on, or if they’re stuck in a rut.

    To take an example from way back; Ryuk is creative. And the reason why, is that it is markably so on all three fronts. To the reader, it explores the idea of a fixed “event”, and the neccessary steps a player must take to see that event played through to its conclusion. To MYM, Ryuk contributed the ‘bottleneck’ approach to moveset flow, which I don’t neccesarily approve of… but likewise don’t especially hate either. And to MW himself, Ryuk changed his entire outlook on movesetting.
    Notice how only one of these contributions was apparant when the moveset was first posted. It was only later, that the other aspects of its creativity could take shape.

    I suppose my point, if I even have one, is that creativity is only noticeable in hindsight, after time has passed. To comment on the creativity of a moveset, at the instance in which you read it, is folly.

  19. I pretty much agree here. Especially on the bit about giving the reader ideas to play with. That’s why I love Spy and CTF mode so much. So much to dream about, you know? However when it gets too complicated (see: Lunge), it loses the immersion.

  20. Isn’t this nice

  21. Yes.

  22. ^ cringe

  23. Both comments seem pretty expected from the people who posted them.

  24. yup (HIPPO)

  25. You primitive scrubs. We abandoned the use of hippo long ago, along with any sense of human decency we had.


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